The rapid development of megacities, and their growing connectedness across the world is becoming a distinct driver for emerging disease outbreaks. Early detection of unusual disease emergence and spread should therefore include such cities as part of risk-based surveillance. A catch-all metagenomic sequencing approach of urban sewage could potentially provide an unbiased insight into the dynamics of viral pathogens circulating in a community irrespective of access to care, a potential which already has been proven for the surveillance of poliovirus. Here, we present a detailed characterization of sewage viromes from a snapshot of 81 high density urban areas across the globe, including in-depth assessment of potential biases, as a proof of concept for catch-all viral pathogen surveillance. We show the ability to detect a wide range of viruses and geographical and seasonal differences for specific viral groups. Our findings offer a cross-sectional baseline for further research in viral surveillance from urban sewage samples and place previous studies in a global perspective.
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